Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan Ballyhale Shamrocks' manager Tommy Shefflin leaves the referees' room after being told the game was called off due to a waterlogged pitch last week.
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Ballyhale and Oulart to tog out again for Leinster semi-final after last week's washout
Back to Wexford Park for Henry Shefflin and his side.

Leinster club SHC semi-final

Oulart The Ballagh (Wexford) v Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny), Wexford Park, Wexford, 2pm

THE KILKENNY CHAMPIONS wandered into the Leinster championship only to find a waterlogged pitch and no game.

But their own county championship is easily a good enough form guide and even if they were expected to dispose of Dicksboro a little more easily in the final, they’ve run a serious gauntlet and come out the far side for the first time since 2009. Interestingly, that year they faced today’s opposition and were nine-points down before rallying to force extra-time, a win, and a pivotal marker on the road to an All Ireland.

But even more interestingly, TJ Reid shot 2-4 that day but is out now and even Maurice Alyward admits the miles on the clock means they aren’t the same team.

As for Oulart, they’ve been dominating Wexford to the extent they’ll be judged on their Leinster form. After that heart-breaking loss three years ago, they’ve lost back-to-back provincial finals, while already this year they’ve needed the attacking play of Garreth Sinnott and the accuracy of Nicky Kirwan to see them past Kilmacud. It’s never easy when it comes to them at this level, but it’s always exciting.

Checking the odds… Despite home advantage and their pedigree at this level, Oulart are 9/4 with bookies, Shamrocks are a heavily favoured 2/5 while if you think lightning does strike twice and we’ll again need extra-time, you can get a draw at 10/1. Henry Shefflin leads the first goalscorer market, but given his pace and his position, Colin Fennelly is worth a look at 13/2.

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A topic for pub chat… Darren Stamp may be outspoken much of the time but it’s always honest and interesting. He recently swung his hurl at Conal Keaney’s comments that there were four or five clubs in Dublin that might beat the Wexford side, after that he took a swing at the idea they should be fearful of playing a Kilkenny side. But interestingly, asked about why Oulart have been so successful but a Wexford intercounty side he was involved with until recently were so average, he put it all down to work at underage. Is this really the problem?

The game breakers are… The Ballyhale forwards. Simply put, they are lethal. Shefflin, Fennelly, Eoin Reid, Michael Fennelly and Mark Aylward can all run up a big score and if they get enough ball, they may be too much. But Oulart have lots of classy hurlers and some very good backs down the spine of their defence and do have an advantage going forward themselves. They may not have the talented attackers of the opposition, but Rory Jacob is dangerous and Ballyhale are a little slow at that end of the field.

Gazing into the crystal ball… It may seem an odd thing to say about the Kilkenny champions, but the heavy field at this time of the year may suit them as it will cover for their lack of pace. They’ll have to stand up to a physical onslaught, granted that’s never been a problem, and even if they are a little past their best and talk of All Irelands is way off, this would mean a lot as they rage against the lessening of the light. Expect a ferocious battle, expect it to be close, but expect Oulart to again trudge off a field in the Leinster championship with their hearts smashed to pieces after an almighty effort.

Verdict: Ballyhale by three

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